Jonathan Kountis spent four outstanding seasons in the Frontier League and has etched his name in Frontier League history. Kountis—a right-handed pitcher—played collegiately at Ohio Dominican University and then Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He was drafted twice and signed with the New York Mets after the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft. After signing with the Mets, he spent two seasons in their organization. He spent his whole career up to that point as a starter, but the organization tried to convert him to a reliever after his first season in the system. He struggled and was ultimately released by the Mets.
As Jonathan was contacted by a number of independent league teams, he eventually got in contact with coach John Massarelli of the Lake Erie Crushers and asked him about joining the team as a starting pitcher. However, Massarelli needed a closer, so Kountis agreed to sign and switch back to being a closer.
“I remember researching a lot of other closers online,” Kountis recalls, “And my favorite player just happened to be Mariano Rivera.”
Kountis had a great season in 2012 as closer for the Crushers, being named a Post-Season All-Star Relief Pitcher, and being signed by the Toronto Blue Jays after the season.
“I loved the adrenaline kick of being a closer,” said Kountis.
With about a month left in the season that he spent in the Blue Jays organization he suffered a cut to two of his fingers on his throwing hand. This affected his command and he was ultimately let go by the Blue Jays with about a month left in the season. After signing with Laredo in the American Association, he was eventually traded back to the Frontier League to the Frontier Greys and served as a starter again.
He remembers former Washington Wild Things manager Bart Zeller approaching him and saying “What are you still doing out there as a starter?”
In 2014, Kountis signed with the Washington Wild Things and moved back to being a closer, the role that he thrived in. That season, he set the Frontier League single season save record (32 saves)—a record that he still holds today—and helped the Wild Things get back into the playoffs. He was named a Post-Season All-Star Relief Pitcher after that season as well.
“I have only good memories of the Frontier League,” said Kountis. “One thing that stands out to me was the night I set the single season save record. I can remember a packed house in Washington, Bill Lee being there to congratulate me, and just celebrating with my teammates. It was a really cool moment.”
Jonathan then went back to the American Association the following year, but was eventually traded back to the Wild Things. In his 162 innings pitched over 113 games played in the Frontier League, he posted a 3.00 ERA and 188 strikeouts. He ranks second all-time in saves in the Frontier League with 62.
After injuring his elbow and suffering a 98% tear in his UCL in 2015, Kountis decided to call it a career. Since his time in the Frontier League, Kountis has spent the last six years owning and working in his family’s dental lab in Akron, Ohio. He is now married and is the father of a two-year-old son. He still finds time for baseball though, serving as a coach of a premier summer league team and playing in a Roy Hobbs league from time-to-time. Kountis has also played for the national team of Greece for the last five years.
“I want to pass the game on to my son, but I don’t want to force it. I want him to develop an interest in it by seeing me play or by me being involved in the game.”
Looking back on his career, Kountis has this advice to offer to current players:
“We all come from different backgrounds and different places, so instead of thinking about what’s next and making ourselves upset, we need to embrace and take whatever God has in store for us and enjoy the moment.”
In reaction to his being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Kountis said this:
“I never thought playing in the Frontier League would lead me to being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I’m extremely blessed and humbled for the fact that I get to be remembered forever. It is a really nice honor. We never know how long our careers are going to be, so the best thing we can do is just embrace the moments that we live in, and if we can do that, we can find happiness. I have no regrets.”
You can watch Jonathan Kountis and other inductees give their Hall of Fame speeches at the ceremony in Washington right here: https://frontierleague.vhx.tv/videos/flhofceremony